Sunday, December 27, 2009

Luxury Jjimjilbang and Muk-Chi-Ba

By this point in my tenure here in Korea, I am no stranger to jjimjilbangs, though I will admit I got off to a late start.

Jjimjilbangs are public bathhouses/saunas, with a (clothed) co-ed hangout room. They're great to go and relax for a while. They're also handy if you've been out in Seoul past midnight, but you're too broke to hire a cab and too tired to party until 5 am, because you can just cough up seven thousand won and boom: a locker for your valuables, a hot shower, and a place to spend the night.

The one I've been to before, near Sejong University, is nice enough, small and basic. The one closest to me up here in Minlak-dong, however, is like...MEGA ULTRA SUPER LUXURY JJIMJILBANG. Or at least in comparison it is.

Either place you do the same thing: strip down, shower off, jump into the hot tub/cold tub for a while, and hop into your jjimjil clothes to head up to the co-ed part. There's a TV and a sauna, usually, as well as complimentary mats and pillows (for people staying the night).

The one here is part of a chain—Waterpia—and it's pretty swank. In addition to the saunas and TV, there's also a small gym, a "snack corner," a pool, massage chairs (1,500 won for fifteen minutes? Yes, please!), and other assorted goodies. And, of course, ondol heating in the floors.

This was my first time going with another foreign girl in tow, so the nudity was a bit more personal than it normally is, but when everyone else is buck naked it's no big thing. We lobstered out in the hot tubs, then went upstairs to the coed part to meet our male partner-in-crime.

A couple of small Korean boys seemed absolutely fascinated with us. They ran by us multiple times, giggling, occasionally managing a "hello." Kids are cuter when you're not teaching them.

"Come here," I waved them over. "Come on, muk-chi-ba!"

The younger of the two looked confused, but his older brother caught on pretty quickly. I schooled the other one and the younger one both the first time around, after which they giggled and ran off. A few minutes later they came back for round two. Their noona was with them too—they tried to get her to play me but she shook her head. I schooled the younger one, but the older one beat me. I held out my forearm and he dutifully raised two fingers, blew on them, and brought them down as fast as he could. He couldn't have been more than six or seven, so it wasn't much, but I exaggerated for comic relief.

"Ow!" I cried, grabbing my arm. "Ow! Wow, what muscles! Strong!"

The only bummer about going to a jjimjilbang on a Sunday night is having to work on Monday.

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